Tag Archives: outdoors

EZ Times Outfitters, a Great Time for All!

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Some people think that the only time to come to Mt. Rainier is in the summer. Those people are WRONG! There’s plenty of fun to be had at the mountain in the winter, that, combined with less crowds and gorgeous scenery, looks like Mt. Rainier just became your family’s winter destination.

What’s a great activity for you, you ask? How about trail riding with some great horses! EZ Times Outfitters is just 14 miles from the entrance to Mt. Rainier National Park off Highway 7. If you’ve been to Rainier before, chances are you’ve driven by it! With friendly and knowledgeable staff, exceptionally well trained horses, and some breathtaking views, it’s an outing everyone will enjoy.

Not super comfortable on a horse? Never ridden one? No worries! The horses and guides have done trail rides with people at all levels of comfort on a horse. To be honest when we went on our ride, it’d been years since I’d been on a horse! The staff helped me get on and off, and always made sure we were comfortable with the pace. The horses are so well trained they followed the guide and his horse- we just had to keep them from snacking on ferns (my horse LOVED to sneak snacks). Our ride took us up into the Elbe hills shared with the DNR Horse Trail System. We splashed through puddles, climbed up slopes, trotted for a bit (only if you want), and got to take in some great views of the Nisqually River and Mt. St. Helens in the distance.

EZ Times offers a couple of options, 1hr or 2hr mountain trail rides, sunset trail rides, Nisqually River trail rides, and kid rides. EZ Times Outfitters currently has 10 horses. They can take children as young as 5 and carry up to 250 pounds. If you’re worried about a small child, they have lead ropes they can tie up to the guide’s horse for extra peace of mind.

This isn’t just a fair weather activity either. The horses are ready to go in sun, rain, or snow. They even have rain coats that cover you head to toe, as well as your horse. As long as you dress for the weather, you’ll have fun regardless!

See their youtube video here.

Check out other activities here.

Exploring the Stevens Canyon Road

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Thousands of visitors come to Mt. Rainier each year, and expect to see spectacular views. Sometimes hiking just isn’t on the menu, but that’s okay, you don’t have to hike a couple of miles to get to some great views, they’re just right off the road! The Stevens Canyon Road is perfect for those who don’t mind a little time in the car to explore some great views.

Running from Ohanapecosh to just below Paradise, the Stevens Canyon has a myriad of stopping points and jaw dropping views. Coming from the Nisqually Gate, the road is past Longmire and to the right; it can also be accessed from the Paradise Valley Loop Road.

Inspiration Point is one of the first stops you can’t resist taking a picture. The pullout shows off a beautiful spread out view of Mt. Rainier and her lower valleys. A can’t-miss photo to bring home with you!

Once you leave Inspiration Point heading east, you’re going to drive by Reflection Lake. It’s a true gem- right off the side of the road! On clear days, the image of the mountain is perfectly reflected, giving this lake its appropriate name. The Lakes Trail going up to Paradise has trailheads here, as well as a shorter hike around Reflection Lake called the High Lakes Trail, a 2.4 mile hike that takes you to Faraway Rock overlooking Reflection Lake and Lake Louise.

The first half of the Stevens Canyon Road follows the Wonderland Trail, until Box Canyon where the road goes South and the Wonderland to the North. There are great hikes off this road, including Pinnacle Peak, the Bench and Snow Lakes (one of the earliest trails for wildflowers), and Lakes Trail.

As you’re driving along enjoying the beautiful scenery, don’t forget to stop at Box Canyon! Trust me, it is well worth your time. Box Canyon used to be covered by the Cowlitz glacier, now over 2 miles away! The glaciers recession polished the rocks underneath, leaving them smooth and its runoff carved a canyon over 118 ft deep! A short ½ mile walk on the left side of road takes you to a pedestrian bridge over the canyon where you can marvel at the effects of the glacier. This trail is flat and great for small children, older adults, and strollers- though you’ll want to keep a close eye on the kiddos crossing the bridge! To the right of the road are bathrooms and some info boards telling the story of the glacier.

Continuing on towards Ohanapecosh you’ll drive by the Grove of the Patriarchs- another must see! It’s quite a name, Grove of the Patriarchs, but it couldn’t be more fitting. This short 1.1 mile loop will take you over a suspension bridge and onto a boardwalk traveling through monstrous trees. This is an old growth forest with trees 1,000 years’ old and up to 300 feet high!  You can’t help but be in awe of these ancient giants.

Across the street from the Grove of the Patriarchs, ½ a mile from the road is Silver Falls. You can watch the Ohanapecosh River cascade down from the bridge just below the falls or the viewpoint next to it. Definitely bring the camera for this one! Silver Falls can also be accessed from the Ohanapecosh Campground (Loop B, a 2.7 mile loop hike), or from Route 123 (0.6 miles total, 1.6 miles north from the Ohanapecosh Campground, park on the left side of the road).

The Stevens Canyon Road can be enjoyed by visitors of all ages and abilities. It hosts a variety of stunning views and breathtaking landscapes. This road does close during the winter as it could get dangerous with snow. Remember to always stay on trails, especially around rivers, waterfalls, and steep cliffs, as accidents do happen and fences and railings are for your protection as well as the forests.

In the Rain: Carter Falls and Madcap Falls

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We know how it is; you plan for your trip, you get excited, you see the mountain from the road (almost there!), then, on the day of the trip- snow at paradise, and raining everywhere else. We know, because it happened to us too. It’s always unfortunate when you can’t see the mountain because of weather, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the park and the many other views it has to offer.

When we woke up the day of our hike and checked the weather reports (always important!), we saw that there was a storm warning at paradise, and it was raining cats and dogs everywhere else. Checking the weather beforehand and talking to the rangers at the park helped, and so we changed our plans. Instead of a hike near Paradise, that would put us at snow level, we opted for a lower elevation hike in the trees for partial rain coverage. The perfect trail for that? Carter and Madcap Falls.

The Carter Falls and Madcap Falls trail is a 1.1 mile part of the Wonderland Trail, a 92 mile trail that goes around Mt. Rainier National Park. The trailhead is across from the Cougar Rock Campground, about 8 miles from the park entrance, with parking off the side of the road.

The hike starts by crossing the Nisqually riverbed; including walking across a log bridge- kids should have an adult cross with them to be safe. The cliffs across the river are spotted with long, graceful waterfalls, and if there are no clouds, Mt. Rainier can be seen looking up the river. Once you are on the other side of the river you head up into the trees and start making your way to the falls, with the river on your right. It is an uphill hike, but not a steep one.

Carter Falls is a spectacular waterfall with an 80 ft drop. A nice reward for your hike! Just past Carter Falls, 1/10th of a mile up is Madcap Falls, a smaller set of waterfalls in the Nisqually. Fun Fact: the Nisqually River, which flows from the Nisqually Glacier seen above Paradise to the left, feeds Alder Lake, a large lake you pass if you’re entering the park from the southwest.

Hiking is great in that it isn’t necessarily a fair-weather sport. As long as you are prepared, i.e. a waterproof coat, gloves, appropriate shoes, etc., you can still go out in the rain. Wildlife is still out and about, but there are fewer crowds. Check out other good hikes in bad weather in our previous blog ‘Don’t Let the Rain Stop You.’ If you do go out in bad weather, make sure you know the conditions beforehand, you’re prepared, and safe.

Indian Bar

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Oh Indian Bar.  To be clear, this hike is not for the weak or weary.  This hike is a hard stretch of the Wonderland, with 14.5 miles round-trip and a 2,900 foot elevation gain on the way in (800 on the way out). Is it worth it?  Absolutely.  A hundred times over.

In an interview with the backcountry carpenter at Mt. Rainier, see blog here: (https://mtrainierblog.com/2013/07/07/stories-from-the-mountain-meet-mt-rainiers-backcountry-carpenter/)  he said that Indian Bar is one of his favorite places in the park.  Furthermore, he said that he had never NOT seen a bear at Indian Bar (sorry for the double negative), and sightings included a mother bear with three cubs, and a six-bears-in-one-day day.  Bears, wildflowers, dozens of waterfalls, and a babbling brook all in a private, wide-open valley.  YES PLEASE!

Indian Bar can be reached from two different access points – beginning from Box Canyon or from Fryingpan Creek Bridge (taking the the Summerland Trail from the White River side of the park).  I’ve done the Box Canyon route, and will focus on this route for all intensive purposes.  The Box Canyon trailhead is on Stevens Canyon Road, 11 miles east of the Longmire-Paradise Road. The gravel trail (with a sign) is directly across from the parking lot.

The first mile-and-a-half allow hikers to pass alongside Nickel Creek and another small creek with a mild grade. The next mile and a half are tough – there is a lot of elevation grade without much reprieve, and the area is all forested – not allowing for scenic overlooks until the 3-mile mark. At three miles, hikers will reach the crest of the Cowlitz Divide, which hikers will follow for the next four-and-a-half miles. Off the right hikers can settle themselves into a moderate sized field of wildflowers with nice views southwards, to drink and eat trail mix before continuing north and climbing onward.

As hikers continue onwards on the ridge, the trail gradually opens up.  Mt. Rainier will start to show its southeast side ahead and to the left through the trees, and the trail will follow the contours of the ridge, at times quite steep, but allowing hikers to rest on some flat stretches, and enjoy the wildflower meadows as they widen and beckon. Finally, the trail widens to show Mt. Rainier in all of its glory, with a colorful valley in the foreground. This is the high point of the trail at 5,914′ and from here, hikers will descend 800′ into the valley where Indian Bar sits in a huge open meadow.

The Ohanapecosh river splits the meadow in two, and the Indian Bar shelter beautifully sits to the west side of the river, its open side facing the flowing water.  Animals frequent the meadows north of the shelter and camping areas, and in late spring there are many waterfalls pouring down the lava cliff faces high above the valley. The backcountry camping area is southeast of the shelter about 100 feet, and sits right above Wauhaukaupauken Falls, which are small but beautiful.

Once you’ve set up your camp and rested a bit, it is recommended to clamber up the hill above the camp.  Elk sightings are almost guaranteed when the animals are in rut in September.  Remember always to give animals plenty of space.  Bull elk can be extremely aggressive in mating season, and you should take care never to surprise a black bear.  Take extra precautions around the black bear if there are cubs around.  Never get between a mother and her cub, and make sure to make plenty of noise when hiking at dusk and dawn, so as not to catch a bear unaware and on the defense.

This hike is generally snow-free from late July – September, and the wildflowers are out in full effect late-July to mid-August. If hikers arrange for a car drop-off, the Box Canyon hike can be combined with the Summerland trail to the trailhead at Frying Creek bridge (another 8.7 mile hike), for a one-way 17 mile hike through some of Mt. Rainier’s most beautiful country.

If you choose to do the Box Canyon trail in and out of Indian Bar, it is most definitely recommended as a two-day hike, so make sure that you apply for the appropriate backcountry camping permit, which must be arranged in person. Wilderness Camping and Climbing permits are available at the Longmire, White River, and Carbon River Wilderness Information Centers (WICs) and at the Paradise Climbing Information Center during the summer season. Permits are also available at visitor centers.

Cathedral Falls

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The Nisqually Valley is an amazing and wonderful place, and Mt. Rainier is arguably one of the most beautiful places on earth.  Sometimes it is hard to wonder why we’d ever venture out of the valley for more beauty, but sometimes a short day trip can have spectacular results.  Cathedral Falls, located in the Cowlitz Valley – is just such one of these places.

Mt. Rainier has waterfalls galore.  But Catheral Falls is spectacular.  It feels like you could be in Costa Rica or in Western Africa, but with huckleberry bushes and pine and cedar trees surrounding you.  What’s more, the drive to Cathedral Falls is only about 1.5 hours from Ashford, and about 45 minutes if you are staying in Packwood or Morton – which happens often to folks who don’t make reservations on busy summer weekends. The hike is easy, and you get to traverse behind the waterfalls on the trail! Family friendly, and dogs are welcome. Read on for the details!

To get there, you’ll need to head towards Riffe Lake.  From the Ashford Visitor’s Center, head west 6 miles to Elbe, and take a left on Hwy 7 to Morton.  Once in Morton, take a left on Hwy 12. Head east for about 8 miles, and take a right on Kosmos Road, and take your next main left on to Champion Haul Road.  Follow this road along Riffe Lake and over the bridge, and continue following the road to the right onto a dirt road.  Follow this for a bit less than a mile, and take a left on another dirt road.  This road has a gate that should be open, posting that it is privately owned by a timber company, but publicly accessible.  Rules and regulations are posted.  Carry on, and the dirt road will take you into Gifford Pinchot National Forest! You’re almost there.

Drive for about 4.5 miles, keeping on the main dirt road and curving uphill and to the left.  Just when you’ve thought your lost your way, you’ll see the cars parked at the trail-head.  Unload your kids, dogs, snacks and packs, and hit the trail! The path is wide, well-maintained, and obstacle free.  The shady forest is cool and sweet smelling, huckleberry bushes are everywhere, and wildflowers liven the trail in late spring/early summer.

After about a mile, you’re there! And it will take your breath away. The falls launch 248 feet above, pummeling over an overhang high above, and creating a sheet of water that visitors can walk behind, or marvel at from various viewpoints to either side/front of the falls.  The trail takes all hikers behind the falls, and aside from a spactacular vantage point, visitors can linger in the cavernous hollow in the rocks that gave Cathedral Falls its appropriate name. At the bottom of the falls, the water has pounded the rock into a gentle swoop that loops the water around in a semi-circle before continuing it on its way.

The falls are most spectacular when the falls are running when the water is at its highest, from early May to mid-June, or after a heavy rain in the fall.  The falls will lose most of their power by late-June, but a trickle should continue through the year.  This is a great hike for a rainy day – hikers are protected by the tall cedars and pine trees, and hikers can continue their hike after the falls if they are interested in exploring further.

A wonderful family outing awaits at Cathedral Falls – enjoy!

Trail of Shadows

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Summer has officially begun as of the solstice on June 22nd, and Mt. Rainier’s trails are beginning to thaw out.  An easy and accessible trail to avoid the snow and learn about Mt. Rainier’s earliest history is the Trail of Shadows, directly across from Longmire National Inn.

A flat and wide .7 mile loop, the Trail of Shadows allows families of every age to stroll together and admire the lush vegetation, babbling brooks that circle a beaver pond and Longmire Meadow.  The area is great for viewing wildlife, particularly at dusk and dawn, and children and adults alike will be enchanted by the vibrant green foliage that nests itself at the feet of old growth trees. On a clear day from the West side of the meadow, you can see Mt. Rainier towering over the hillside to the Northeast.

Aside from natural delights, the walk also allows visitors a glimpse into vestiges of the past.  James Longmire discovered the pond while his horses wandered off for a bit of water during a hiking expedition.  To his delight, he saw that the pond was fed in part by bubbling mineral springs, which can still be seen today.  Longmire laid his claim to the land, built a thirteen-mile wagon trail to the springs, and erected cabins and in 1890, a hotel for his late-19th Century “therapeutic” spa.

While the cedar tubs that visitors once soaked in at the turn of the century are now long gone, visitors can still admire Soda Springs, which are springs enclosed by a ring of stones and including a seating area and high stone wall.  Of the 49 total mineral springs discovered in the Longmire area, “Iron Mike” is another spring enclosed by rudimentary rock walls that visitors can behold.

The trail also passes by the oldest building in the park – a cabin built in 1888 by James Longmire’s son, Elcaine Longmire, where he often would live during the summertime.  Everyone loves to peer inside and wonder at how the small, simple interior of the cabin, and imagine a life so different from our own.

Rainier National Park introduced a competing hotel in 1906, and eventually bought the Longmire’s out of their property in 1939. The springs were tested and found that they did not have any medicinal value, and the springs were ceased to exist as a tourist attraction, yet remained an important part of Mt. Rainier history.

The Trail of Shadows beckons you and yours.  Enjoy!